String Quartet No.4, Op.25
Images – Series 2
Rigoletto: paraphrase de concert (after Verdi)
String Quartet in F
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.36 [1931 Revised Version]
Cavaleri String Quartet [Anna Harpham & Ciaran McCabe (violins), Ann Beilby (viola) & Rowena Calvert (cello)]
Meng Yang Pan (piano)
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris
Reviewed: 6 December, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Park Lane Group’s first Wigmore Hall concert of the season proved to be a heavy programme – two recitals in one, really – but replete with quality musicianship and at least one genuinely unfamiliar work. Zemlinsky’s Fourth String Quartet was the bravest choice of the evening, but also the most surprising. This knotty work from late in Zemlinsky’s career (1936), composed shortly after the death of his friend Alban Berg, bears a certain similarity to Berg’s Lyric Suite and presents a number of shades of post-Romantic angst across its six movements. The language is somewhere between Berg’s romanticised serialism and an older flavour of fin de siècle Vienna, and there’s a good measure of Bartókian fervour in the scurrying pizzicato of the second movement ‘Burlesque’ and the furious final ‘Doppelfuge’. This is a fascinating work dripping with turmoil and disillusion and benefited from an incisive and superbly crafted performance by the Cavaleri Quartet, formally known as the Harpham Quartet. Each of the quartet’s members impressed with their almost unfailingly precise intonation and clearly projected solos; violist Ann Beilby was particularly notable for her remarkable warm tone and delicate touch.
Ravel’s sole string quartet was certainly the more lyrical of the works chosen by the Cavaleri Quartet and while certain moments in the finale were a little too aggressively pointed, the group’s flexibility of tempo and dynamics in the first movement were excellent. The speed and vigour of the feisty ‘Assez vif’ section of the second movement felt ideally judged; though the movement’s doleful central passage lost some concentration. But the overriding sense in these two works was of a group communicating tremendous energy and unity of purpose.
Pianist Meng Yang Pan immediately communicated her strengths in the first piece of Debussy’s Second Set of Images, ‘Cloches à travers les feuilles’, its swirling opening figures clearly defined as though floating on different planes. She captured beautifully the music’s daydreaming atmosphere, its sudden reveals of grandeur and the strange ambivalence of its final chords. ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût’ continued this air of ambivalence, but ‘Poissons d’or’ was darting and impish and Pan’s scurrying passagework was wonderfully light and clear.
The same quality of delicate ornamentation was evident Liszt’s Rigoletto Concert Paraphrase; though her final choice of Rachmaninov’s thunderous Second Piano Sonata (in the 1931 revised version) was less convincing. Despite its reasonably firm place in the repertoire, the work is hamstrung by some of Rachmaninov’s least distinctive melodic writing and it’s recourse to grand gestures becomes wearing. Pan was most at home breathing colour into the tender second movement, but she couldn’t make the work’s breast-beating conclusion feel appropriately hard-won.